Annual Theme 2022

Along with the buildings and interiors of the historic Bauhaus, an idea of cleanliness took shape which also accompanied subsequent minimalistic developments in 20th century architecture and design. The word “clean” in relation to the designed form of objects and buildings described a structure-creating order conceived to make social life simpler. Spaces and fitments were given smooth, clean and hard surfaces made from man-made, industrially manufactured materials. Electrical lighting revealed every hitherto hidden thing, including dirt. With the attempt to create buildings that structure and order people’s lives, work and thoughts, “cleanliness” became a controlling construct in a real, material as well as social and moral sense.

Historically, the arguments of New Architecture and the Bauhaus in favour of the “liberated dwelling” characterised by light, air and sun seized upon the dirty backyards of the metropolises as places of sickness and chaos. In the course of this, “cleaning up” was perceived as liberation. This embraced all areas of life: from the excessive ornamentation of 19th century architecture and interiors to the uncontrolled growth of the cities, the catastrophic experiences of war in the minds and bodies of the people, poverty and want. New forms of knowledge and imaging techniques supported this: microbiology, X-Rays, ergonomics, sociology, racial theory, statistics, etc. These provided the tools to analyse, observe, document, implement and control the practices of cleaning. Hygienic methods of disinfection, sterilisation and pasteurisation contributed significantly to disease control and, for example, the reduction of infant and postpartum mortality rates – but likewise to the ideologization of the “pure national body”. This conflicting nature of hygiene and cleanliness ultimately reached its gruesome climax in the concentration camps of the National Socialists.

These cleansing, cathartic and equalising models have long been a focus of criticism, for “cleansing” also means division, categorisation, segregation: nature here, culture there; people here, non-human beings there. In the course of this processes, knowledge cultures rooted in the intertwining of nature and culture were regarded as inferior and thus marginalised. With the sharpened awareness of intermixtures, hybridisations and boundaries, the focus is now shifting to mixing ratios and transition systems – also as regards past events and situations.

With the annual theme Hygiene, the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation will focus on this critical field of modern design and the modern discourse and take a probing, critical look at systems and practices of “cleaning up”. In doing so, new areas of arts and design-based research are opened up which trace the intermixtures of “dirt” and “cleanliness” in design, architecture, artistic and curatorial practice and thus create space, not for a homogenising order, but for the multiplicity of diverse arrangements.